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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 12:41 GMT
MPs face foul language censorship
MPs' "profanities" are being outlawed
Bad language is to be censored out of emails sent by MPs and their staff.

Some MPs are complaining they have not been told which words will be screened out under the new rules.

The news came as MPs debated ministers' plans to get government services online by 2005.

The government says the change will transform its relationship with the UK's citizens, but opponents say many services already available online are poor.

'Secret censorship'

The changes to the rules governing MPs and researchers' own emails have been announced by the Parliamentary Communications Director.

Under the ruling, "profanities of a sexual or offensive nature" will be censored.

Liberal Democrat shadow leader of the Commons Paul Tyler said MPs had not been told who was deciding which words were offensive.

Sir George Young
Sir George Young says many online services are badly managed
MPs have to write to the communications directorate to find out what they can and cannot write.

Mr Tyler said: "We might be more relaxed about censorship and the nanny state protecting us from unacceptable messages if we knew who the nanny was.

"Some MPs are known for their colourful language. Even the rather grey prime minister, John Major, was known to describe his colleagues as bastards. Would he now be bleeped?"

Many firms and schools use computer programmes which automatically screen emails for offensive words.

E-unable MPs?

In the Westminster Hall debate, former Conservative minister Sir George Young said some MPs had invested in websites but failed to update them for months or even years.

"At the other end of the spectrum, a number of colleagues still do not offer their constituents an email address."

This meant the public were in some cases emailing other MPs and asking them to pass print-outs to their own representative in Parliament, said Sir George.

GP at work
GPs' appointments could go online
The Tory MP said the government was right to try to make the UK a leader in internet technology.

But as well as its achievements, there were problems which put the whole strategy in question, he said.

Sir George argued the internet could play an important part in reforming public services.

But he added: "I am suspicious of the current fashion for adding an 'e' at the front of words. It can be misleading and unhelpful.

"It is all too easy to be caught up in the latest fashion and waste both time and money following it, delivering little benefit to the end user while overlooking some basic and elementary steps that can bring immediate gains."


Cabinet Office Minister Douglas Alexander highlighted the 6bn being invested in information and communications technology in coming years.

"The e-enablement of public services, with the citizen at its core, is central to our strategy of transforming the interaction between state and individual," said Mr Alexander.

He pointed to the thousands of people using the NHS Direct and Learn Direct websites each month as a sign of success.

An electronic prescriptions and appointments booking service is among the schemes planned for the NHS, said Mr Alexander.

Witnesses and police officers might also be called to give evidence in court by text message, pager, or email, rather than have to wait for days at a time until they are called to take the stand.

"That could free up thousands of police days that are currently wasted in waiting to give evidence.

"And it could save millions of pounds by reducing the number of trials that need to be reconvened after witnesses have given up and gone hope, or back to work."

The debate comes after researchers said UK Government websites will become "online Millennium Domes with just as few visitors" if urgent action is not taken.

Last month's warning from public sector IT consultants Hedra said fewer than one in 20 internet users regularly use government websites to access public services.

See also:

13 Dec 02 | Politics
19 Nov 02 | Technology
07 Jun 02 | Technology
06 May 02 | Wales
04 Apr 02 | Politics
05 Dec 01 | Science/Nature
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